Sharks showdown: Bulls’ speed weapon
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Has Tim Agaba’s time finally come in the high-level, 15-man rugby fold?
The former SA Sevens star has had to bide his time patiently since joining the Bulls’ Super Rugby cause last year: he sports a mere two caps as things stand.
But for his third appearance, and a start, the Ugandan-born player has been catapulted into a key role for the spicy Loftus encounter with the Sharks on Saturday (17:15 kick-off).
The big-striding athlete will be the only reasonably genuine speed merchant among the respective sets of loose forwards in the major clash, which sees teams each boasting two-from-three records so far slug it out.
South African derbies are not always the easiest occasions on the eye: regional passions, a sense of desperation and propensity for bruising collisions often drag them down as spectacles, as roughly happened when the Sharks played the Stormers (and lost for the first time in the 2019 campaign) at home last weekend.
But that isn’t always the case, especially in more favourable, fast-surface Highveld conditions, so there could well be a pleasing number of tries on offer in this one.
There were eight between these teams, after all, when the corresponding fixture was played in mid-May 2018, and the Bulls edged it 39-33.
That is exactly the sort of statistical data to prick up the ears of Ugandan-born Agaba, renowned for his instinctive linking, support-running and off-loading game – naturally so prevalent in his Blitzboks career.
Although no shrinking violet on the scales himself at some 105kg, the 29-year-old would almost certainly prevail comfortably in a 100-metre dash, for example, against either of his Bulls loosie colleagues this weekend – veteran Springbok powerhouse Duane Vermeulen and Jannes Kirsten – or the Sharks start-out trio of Wian Vosloo, Jacques Vermeulen and Dan du Preez.
Neither side will contain a mobile, low-centre-of-gravity specialist fetcher, only adding to the impression that the loose forwards will generally be drawn into an uncompromising engine room arm-wrestle for hard-earned yards.
So that is where Agaba provides an enticing extra dimension, potentially, to the Bulls’ attack.
Certainly there ought to be plenty of scope for constructive play by the host team if their pack as a whole can ensure anything like the sort of mastery they enjoyed in last week’s unexpectedly easy downing of the Lions in their Ellis Park stronghold.
The Bulls don’t run everything willy-nilly – they still build “scoreboard pressure” by banging over a lot of their penalties through the in-form right boot of Handre Pollard – but there have also been pleasing signs in early season of a new energy, unpredictability and incisiveness when it comes to their ball-in-hand play.
It is against that backdrop that Agaba is thrown into battle against the Sharks, and a rousing display by the fleet-footed player could see him much more regularly placed high up in the Bulls match-day pecking order, even taking into account that injuries are already wreaking a certain amount of havoc in the camp.
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